AFC Bournemouth will be hoping to maintain their impressive recent run when they visit Championship rivals Luton Town on Saturday (12.30pm kick-off).
The Cherries followed up back-to-back league wins over QPR and Cardiff City by triumphing 3-1 against Yeovil Town in the third round of the FA Cup last Saturday.
A hat-trick of victories took Scott Parker’s team back to the Championship summit and earned them a home tie against Boreham Wood in the fourth round of the cup.
Luton’s resounding 4-0 win over Harrogate in the third round of the FA Cup saw them handed a trip to Cambridge United, the slayers of Premier League Newcastle.
Since suffering a narrow 2-1 defeat against the Cherries at Vitality Stadium at the end of September, the Hatters have had a mixed bag of results in the Championship.
Their 13 games have yielded impressive home wins against Coventry (5-0), Hull (1-0) and Middlesbrough (3-1) together with away victories at Millwall (2-0) and Blackpool (3-0).
Nathan Jones’s team have picked up draws against Huddersfield (0-0), Derby (2-2), Forest (0-0) and Fulham (1-1) as well as tasting defeat against Preston (2-0), Stoke (1-0), QPR (2-0) and Cardiff (2-1).
The Hatters are currently 16th in the table, ten points clear of the bottom three and 11 shy of Huddersfield, who occupy the final play-off place.
This will be only the fourth encounter between the teams at Kenilworth Road in the past 14 years, the previous three taking place in the Championship, League One and League Two.
Ahead of the clash, afcb.co.uk caught up with Simon Oxley who covers the fortunes of the Hatters for BBC Three Counties Radio.
LUTON TOWN PROFILE
Ground: Kenilworth Road
Nickname: The Hatters
Manager: Nathan Jones (appointed May 2020)
Club captain: Sonny Bradley
Current league position: 16th
Leading goalscorer 2021/22: Elijah Adebayo (11 in all competitions)
Last game: Luton Town 4-0 Harrogate Town (FA Cup third round)
afcb.co.uk: Ten points clear of bottom three and 11 shy of play-offs – what are the club’s realistic aims for the second half of the season?
SO: At the start of the season, it was to do better than last season when they finished 12th. They have been on course for that and were towards the play-off places at one point.
It’s a bit of an unknown because they haven’t played for so long. They were going along nicely and this game on Saturday will be their first league match for five weeks. They played Harrogate in the FA Cup and looked a little rusty at the start.
They have dropped a few places but then they haven’t played. A realistic aim would be to be within sight of the play-off places but I don’t think any supporters would expect a play-off challenge. They would like to be upper mid-table.
afcb.co.uk: What’s your opinion on Nathan Jones’s second spell as manager?
SO: He’s done very well again. To keep them up was a remarkable achievement, particularly when their strength is playing at home and getting the crowd behind them in a stadium which is unfamiliar to some visiting teams. He kept them up when the ground was empty.
They pushed on again last season and, this time around, they are looking solid and stable and don’t look in danger of going down, they are looking secure in the Championship and are learning about the division.
Nathan has recently signed a contract extension so I think people have faith in him as a long-term project.
afcb.co.uk: James Bree (pictured above) is Luton’s only ever present in the Championship this season – tell us a little about him?
SO: It’s been difficult for him because he had big shoes to fill. Jack Stacey was a huge success at Luton and is now in Bournemouth’s first team.
He’s impressed and he’s had some criticism. But the manager has backed and he’s come through that.
He looks capable of doing what Stacey did in that right wing-back role and being a real threat on the flank. It will be interesting to compare the two of them on Saturday.
afcb.co.uk: What would you say are the club’s hopes and fears for the transfer window?
SO: I think people will hope they make a couple of additions. Nathan Jones has talked about perhaps needing a midfielder or just getting in a couple of fresh faces.
In terms of fears, I suppose inevitably losing a key player and the one that would spring to mind would be Elijah Adebayo (pictured above).
From what Nathan has said, there is no desire or need to sell him. Realistically, at some point in the future, if he carries on the way he has been playing, he won’t be a Luton Town player. As things stand, it looks as though they are determined to keep him.
afcb.co.uk: Who is Luton’s rising star?
SO: Adebayo would be the obvious one but he would probably come in the dangerman category so I’ll go with Reece Burke.
He has come back into the side in recent weeks and has looked very assured. He has slotted into the back three alongside Sonny Bradley and Kai Naismith. He is starting to catch the eye.
fcb.co.uk: Are any key players either suspended or injured against the Cherries?
SO: There are no suspensions. Harry Cornick (pictured above) has been out injured since the end of November and I think he will still be missing on Saturday. He’s been playing well and scoring goals.
Admiral Muskwe is away with Zimbabwe at AFCON. He probably would have been on the bench.
afcb.co.uk: What’s your score prediction?
SO: The last league game was at home to Fulham and that was a 1-1 draw. I think Luton would be delighted to hold Bournemouth as they held Fulham so I’ll go 1-1 again.
You can follow Simon on Twitter – @SimonOxley9
Officials: Leigh Doughty (referee), George Byrne (assistant), Steven Meredith (assistant), David Rock (fourth official).